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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - You Must Rethink Your Spiritual Life

Robert Barron - You Must Rethink Your Spiritual Life

Robert Barron - You Must Rethink Your Spiritual Life

Peace be with you. Friends, our first reading for this weekend is from the marvelous book of Wisdom. The problem is, it might easily slip past our minds, but gosh, it shouldn't, because it articulates what is arguably the principle of biblical revelation. What I mean is the primacy of grace. Let me say that again. The central principle of the whole Bible is the primacy of grace. As I've said before, the Bible is not the story of our quest for God. Go to any bookstore, go on the spirituality shelves, you'll find a hundred books about the human quest for God. The Bible isn't that story. It's the story of God's quest for us. It is God who always takes the initiative in the spiritual order. It's God who sets the tone. It's God who's always the master of the conversation. There's a great temptation in all of us sinners to turn God into a distant spiritual force or principle, and then we're striving to find our way to that God. Or we turn God into a difficult moral taskmaster, and only through heroic effort can we sufficiently impress him.

Well see, the problem with both of those approaches is it puts us and our achievements in the forefront. It's my heroic climbing of the sacred mountain, it's my heroic exercise of the moral life. I'm finding God, but on my terms, not God's, and all of that, everybody, is inimical to the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. We sense the truth of this in the very opening verses of the Scripture. I'm talking about the account of creation. God makes the whole of finite reality. Think of this for a second. Often, even when we're in kind of a spiritual framework, we think of the world as well, it's just kind of dumbly there, and then God is some power up there, out there, and now I've got to just make my way and try to find my path to God. No, no. Everything around me, whatever exists, is already the gift of God. That's what creation means. God is the one who brought the whole of finitude into being. This world is not just dumbly there; it's there as a result of God's initiative, of God's grace. More to it, everything in me. I'm seeking God with my mind and my will and my passions and so on.

Well, where did my mind and will and passions come from? It's not like, "I just happen to have them, and now God's out there, and boy, I'm going to make my way to impress God". No, no. On the contrary: my mind, my will, my energy, my passion, everything in me is always already the gift of God. God always comes first. Whatever we do, God has been there first. And then don't we see this throughout salvation history? Look in the great biblical stories, from Abraham and Moses, Samuel, David, it's always God who does the summoning. The stress is not on our heroic quest for God. It's always on God's initiative. And doesn't Jesus himself, with full magisterial authority, sum this up? "It is not you who have chosen me. It is I who have chosen you". Can I suggest everybody: when you let that get into your heart, I mean all the way down, everything will change. "Oh, I'm looking for meaning. I'm searching for God". No, no. That's not the interesting part of the story at all. "It is not you who've chosen me. It is I who have chosen you". The primacy of grace.

Now, I bring all this up because of our reading from Wisdom. Marvelous. Listen, now, how the book of Wisdom expresses this. "She", referring here to God's wisdom, "she is readily perceived by those who love her, and found by those who seek her". Now, why? "She hastens to make herself known in anticipation of their desire. Whoever watches for her at dawn shall not be disappointed". Why? "For he shall find her [already] sitting by his gate". And finally, "She", again, God's wisdom, "makes her own rounds, seeking those worthy of her, and graciously appears to them in the [way], and meets them with all solicitude". Do you see the point being made? Yes, there's something to be said for the human quest for wisdom. Go back to Socrates and Plato, if you want. That's human beings looking for wisdom. But the Bible isn't primarily interested in that, but rather in God's wisdom that "hastens to make herself known in anticipation of their desire". It's God who is revealing himself to us, even before we begin to seek. In fact, our seeking is predicated upon the fact that we've already been found, if that makes sense.

Herbert McCabe, the great contemporary Dominican theologian, once said this about prayer: whatever is valuable in our prayer, so, I'm asking God for something, if that's a valuable prayer, it's always already God praying in me. Remember how St. Paul talks about the Spirit with kind of inexpressible groaning, petitions for what we are not able to petition. It's the Spirit already in us praying. There's the primacy of grace. So if all this is true, everybody, and I think inescapably it is, in the Bible, most of us have to rethink our spiritual lives. Consciously or unconsciously, we tend to operate out of that false assumption that I've been outlining, namely, that God is pretty hard to get to. God is just pretty distant, pretty demanding, certainly not easily impressed. Again, on this reading, it's our spiritual attainment that kind of comes to the fore. It's like, "Well, God? God's really difficult, so I better really get my act together. I better really get things right to impress him". But what if all of that is getting the spiritual life precisely backward?

Think of the great image here from the book of Revelation: Jesus knocking at the door. Well, we're kind of very much at home with, "I guess I better knock on the door of God. I better seek after Jesus". What if the primordial truth is that it's Jesus knocking on my door? That whatever enthusiasm I muster for the quest for God, there's an infinitely greater enthusiasm on God's part for me, to find me? Maybe the spiritual life isn't so much climbing up the holy mountain on my strength, but rather in opening the door on which Jesus is consistently knocking. He wants to find us. He wants to find us. Allow yourself to be found. Is that the heart of the spiritual life? One of the (maybe the greatest) spiritual master in the Catholic tradition is the sixteenth-century Spanish Carmelite, St. John of the Cross, Juan de la Cruz. If you love the Spanish language, by the way, he's also one of the very finest poets in Spanish. Read John of the Cross for his literary style, but read him above all for his spiritual substance.

Well, recently, I was reading a commentator on John of the Cross, and he said this: Here's the way to sum up the teaching of John of the Cross in contemporary terms. God is like the pilot of a helicopter that's just endeavoring to land, and he's endeavoring to land on the ground of our hearts. God wants to bring the helicopter in. What's the spiritual life? The spiritual life, this commentator said, summing up John of the Cross, is to clear the ground. What's in the way? What's preventing the helicopter of Christ's grace to land in our hearts? Well, I spoke last week about all of these attachments. If I'm attached to wealth, wealth is just preoccupying me, think of that as all kinds of clutter on the ground. So the helicopter that wants to land, he's not playing hard to get. God isn't staying at a distance. No, no. He's hovering right over our hearts, shift metaphor, knocking at the door, but he wants to land. What's on the ground is the clutter of my preoccupation with wealth. Maybe my preoccupation with power. I spend all my time fussing about worldly power. Maybe it's honor. I'm just so concerned about do people like me.

See, but all of that is just this junk on the ground. And so, for John of the Cross, much of the spiritual life, it's not climbing the holy mountain. It's clearing the holy ground of my own heart so that the divine presence can land. It's, if you want, I'm shifting metaphors again, move all this clutter away from the door. There's Jesus knocking at the door. "I want to get in. I want into your heart". But now think of that door as like in an attic or a basement. It's got all kinds of clutter and junk in front of it, so you can't open it. Move that stuff out of the way. There's the ascetic life if you want. It's the cleansing of the heart, the clearing of the obstacles, so that you can simply open the door and let him in. What if that's the spiritual life, everybody? The wisdom of God "hastens to make herself known in anticipation of [our] desire". Marvelous! Before we even want the divine wisdom, she wants us more. That's the point. Open yourself to that truth. Okay. There's the principle. Let me just bring this to a close by asking what this might look like concretely. So you say, "Okay, I get that principle, but how do I make it real in my life"? Well, let me just say three simple things as I close.

Here's the first suggestion. Every day, take five minutes. I'm not asking you for a Holy Hour, although that would be great if you can do it, but take five minutes in a focused way to say, "All right, Lord. I believe you are looking for me. I believe you want a relationship with me. So come into my heart". Take five minutes. I don't know what's the best time of day for you. First thing in the morning, maybe even like during a break at work, or maybe you're in the car, stuck in traffic, maybe the end of the day. Take five minutes every day to say, "Lord, I believe you are searching for me". Open your heart to him. Stop running away from the hound of heaven. Right? That line from the marvelous Francis Thompson poem. "I fled him down the nights and down the days, I fled him down the years, I fled him down the labyrinthine ways of my own mind". That's the soul that's running from God. But God isn't just out there waiting for us. He's the hound of heaven galloping after us. All right! Stop and let yourself be found. That's the point.

Second suggestion, as I've hinted already: be attentive to the attachments in your life. Again, by this, I just mean worldly things that have taken on a disproportionate importance and centrality. Money, success, fame, power, pleasure, all the usual suspects. All those things making the landing of the helicopter difficult. All those things blocking the door that Jesus wants to enter. Be attentive to them, and do something about them. Clear them away.

Third and final suggestion to instantiate this spirituality: be grateful. Gratitude for gifts given rather than a frenzied quest to be perfect. That's a saner spiritual attitude. Do you know what I'm saying? "I am going to be perfect. I'm going to climb the holy mountain. My efforts…" God wants in. Be grateful. Be grateful for all he's given, all that's already available to me, from everything that exists and my own being. Be grateful. As St. Paul said: What do you have that you have not received? Well, the answer is nothing. Everything I have is something I've received as a gift. Cultivate gratitude as a basic attitude in life, and you'll pave the way for the opening of the door to Christ. So it's not so much we who have chosen him. It's he who has chosen us. Let that sink in, your whole spiritual life will change.
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